Until Friday night, the UNO Mavericks men’s basketball team had never won an opening conference game in the Summit League, but this all changed when senior guard CJ Carter led a second half charge over the South Dakota Coyotes to help the Mavericks start the conference schedule on the top winning half of the league. Could you have found a better way for CJ Carter to celebrate his 100th start as a Maverick?
When UNO made the transition to division one, they cut the wrestling and football programs, which clearly upset some people. Many said they would never support UNO ever again. Several of those people saying that had never been to a UNO football game, or a wrestling match, it’s just fun to be whiny for most sports fans. They sat around and just hoped UNO would never be good. I love getting in a conversation with some dude that says it’s a travesty that UNO cut football and wrestling, and I agree it sucks, but I always ask those people, did you ever go see Zach Miller play quarterback? No. Or did you ever go see Greg Zuerlein split the uprights? No. Did you ever go see Jake Ellenberger wrestle? No. Yeah, sounds like it’s really affected your life. While Zach Miller was helping the Mavericks dominate, these fans were more vested in watching Bill Callahan screw up the Nebraska Cornhuskers so they could complain about it.
Some coaches left UNO and most coaches decided to ride out the storm and help their programs build. Athletic teams were cut and athletic programs were born. Student athletes transferred away from UNO, some just plain old quit college athletics, and others transferred into UNO just to say they were division one athletes. Carter signed with the Mavs when UNO was still a division two team his senior year of high school. When UNO announced that they would be transitioning to division one, they eliminated any chance that he had at playing in a conference tournament, he could have easily left the school and no one would have blamed him for it. Many probably thought he would have went to Kearney and had a successful career there. I think many students in his situation would have said screw it and left.
Carter’s story should remind locals something. College athletics isn’t about championships. It’s not about fans going to a Creighton game and seeing Cavel Witter dribble the ball out of bounds off of his shin and claiming he’s a dumb ass, or Kaleb Korver not being his brother, so he’s a waste. It’s about giving kids an opportunity for a scholarship by doing something that they love and building skills off the court or off the field for a successful future. Those NCAA commercials about how most college athletes will be going pro in something else don’t end with “because they actually kind of sucked at sports.” Several conferences in different sports do not let all of their teams into their post season tournaments, some college athletes go all for years without making it to the post season.
Is Carter’s college basketball career the Omaha dream? Yes it’s been a career filled with several ups and downs a long the way, but a Omaha guy playing his college career to build a program in his hometown. Taking his program from being something no one cared about or gave credit to and into something people around town are talking about as something to get out and see, something on the rise. He was given the opportunity to start right away. He has been a part of Mavs first division one victory against Northern Illinois, got to play against Nebraska in Lincoln in both of their arenas, and scored 25 points in what has been UNO’s best program win at Marquette. He was even a part of the team’s first post season win in the CIT. Every first that UNO men’s basketball had in division one, CJ Carter was a part of it in a large way.
When UNO made the transition, local fans outside of the UNO family wrote the Mavericks off. Assuming they would never be good, and giving the Mavericks no respect. The locals thought, they’re not playing for the NCAA tournament, so what’s the point? The Summit League is not the Big 10, or the Big East, or even the Missouri Valley, so who gives a damn? Had UNO never made the transition, Carter would have played a career that had locals saying “yeah he can play at UNO, but would he be able to make it at the D1 level?”
Averaging double figures as a freshman had Mavnation wondering how his career would go. Maybe his production would slip once the Mavs got division one guys around him on the roster, and it did slightly his sophomore season, but he was slowed by some injuries as well. His junior season, when injuries affected Justin Simmons, Carter had to be the one to step up. He was always kind of the third option up until that, but then he had to be the main guy on the outside, especially when he became a more consistent threat.
He’s the only men’s basketball player that played through all four years of the transition. As the only guy who has played through all four years of the transition, no player has scored more points in division one than Carter. No player has more assists, steals, or three pointers since the transition. No UNO men’s basketball player will ever play as many disrespected minutes as CJ Carter, or as many minutes that “don’t matter” to the locals. No one will ever fill up the start sheet with a bigger asterisk than CJ Carter has.
I’m not entirely sure if the team has a team MVP award that they give out each season, but if they do, they should call it the Carter Award for now on (and the women should call theirs the Kelly award). Not many could have done what Carter did. Several would have decommitted and just gone somewhere else. It’s actually surprisingly easy for most people to give up on stuff because it’s too hard to go through something. Others that have come to UNO to feel like a division one player, but they could not out do Carter. Carter came to UNO has a division two player and fought through it to become a division one player. Many people around here who pretend to know what college basketball is have probably never even heard of CJ Carter. There will be no statue of CJ Carter built outside of the new arena, nor will the new arena be named after him, but Carter will need to be remembered for what he has done and what he helped UNO build.